Lesson 144:

Ezekiel 18:24 [I]f a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.

As the prophet preached God’s word, he saw people respond in at least three ways. Some rejected God’s word and remained wicked. Others received God’s word and became righteous. Others became righteous for a while, but then returned to their wickedness. 

The Apostle Peter was also concerned for those who received God’s word but later turned away. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them (1 Peter 2:20-21), he wrote.

We can understand why people turn away from wickedness to become righteous. But why would anyone turn away from righteousness to become wicked? There may be several answers, but one of them is fatigue. It is not hard to be good for a while, but being good all the time can be exhausting. Swimming against the cultural current, and denying our sinful natures day after day, requires moral stamina. A convicted felon, who was sitting in prison, freely admitted this. I know what it is to be good, and I know what it is to be bad, and being bad is easier, he said. 

This is why Christians must find their strength in God. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:30-31), wrote Isaiah. Believers in Jesus Christ need supernatural strength to follow him day after day. And he will surely supply it, as long as we keep on asking (Matthew 7:7).

Ezekiel 18:32 I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

Many of God’s people were living in exile; others had died of starvation; and others were put to the sword. Given the severity of their punishment, some may have wondered if God enjoyed afflicting his people. To this we must add the biblical teaching of eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41). If God is good, why does he let so many people suffer and die, only to send them to hell? What kind of God would do this?

Against this problem, the biblical writers insisted that God is good, and wants everyone to be saved. [God is] not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), wrote Peter. And [God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), wrote Paul. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone (Lamentations 3:33), wrote Jeremiah. 

Furthermore, God has proven all this through the cross. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16), wrote John.

Human suffering is real, and so is eternal punishment. But when we see what God has done for our salvation, we can never question his goodness or love again. He took the suffering we deserve, and put it on himself, so we could live forever. Whenever we doubt the goodness of God, we must think about the cross.

Ezekiel 20:43 [Y]ou will remember your conduct and all the actions by which you have defiled yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil you have done.

God’s people were guilty of idolatry, and were mostly unrepentant. But a time was coming when they would loathe themselves for all their wicked deeds. Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices (Ezekiel 36:31), said God. 

The Apostle Paul is a good example of this. Before he knew Christ, he considered himself to be faultless (Philippians 3:6). But after he knew Christ, he considered himself to be wretched. (Romans 7:24). We tend to think we are pretty good people until we see ourselves in the light of God’s holiness. There we discover we are not pretty good people, but wretched sinners, and we begin to loathe ourselves. This is important for making spiritual progress. In order to become what we are not, we must be unhappy with what we are. 

Thankfully, there will be no self-loathing in heaven, because sin will be a thing of the past. [H]e who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6), wrote Paul. God does not give up on his people, but finishes what he starts. A billion years from now it will be almost a billon years since the last time you sinned. This is the longing of every redeemed heart. 

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Ezekiel 21:21 For the king of Babylon will stop at the fork in the road, at the junction of the two roads, to seek an omen: He will cast lots with arrows, he will consult his idols, he will examine the liver.

As Nebuchadnezzar marched out to war, he came to a fork in the road and sought direction from his gods. Arrows were apparently marked, and tossed to the ground, to discern which way to go. Likewise, idols were consulted, and the livers of sacrificed animals were studied, to get direction from gods that did not exist. 

Here we see the darkness of the world before the coming of Christ. Even kings were making important decisions based on superstition. But all that changed when Jesus came into the world. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2), wrote Isaiah. Believers in Jesus Christ are set free from superstition to follow  the Son of God.

This is why Jesus said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12). The most remarkable thing about Christianity is that it is true. And because it is true, it truly makes sense, and also makes sense of the world. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else (CS Lewis).

Reflection and Review
Why do people stop following Christ?
How does suffering affect your faith?
What is the cure for self-loathing?